December 1, 2021 | David F. Coppedge

Horses Make Stone Tools

Animals can make stone tools not to use them
as tools, but for fooling paleoanthropologists


Storytellers who describe the slow rise of humans from the apes often point to stone tools as markers of evolutionary progress. The first tools, they say, are primitive flakes made by cracking rocks apart. Then, as their brains enlarged by chance, the human ancestors got better at it, shaping and knapping the rocks for better carving up their turkeys or mammoths. Eventually, over hundreds of thousands of years, they learned how to fasten them to handles, giving them more control. Today’s exotic tools are mere continuations of that story of slow and gradual evolution.

Parts of this story may have just come unglued. Scientists are finding out that horses may have inadvertently made some of the alleged stone tools.

Stones smashed by horses can be mistaken for ancient human tools (New Scientist). “Horses kick and stamp on rocks to keep their hooves in good shape, and archaeologists have now realised this can result in a collection of sharp stones that look like the work of an ancient human toolmaker,” writes Graham Lawton.

Some stone tools attributed to prehistoric humans may in fact have been made by horses, according to researchers in Spain. They aren’t claiming that horses make tools deliberately, but as an accidental by-product of trimming their hooves on rocks. The discovery means that archaeologists will have to be more careful about declaring objects to be ancient human-created artefacts.

Lawton writes that capuchin monkeys have also been known to mimic human toolmakers.

In 2016, researchers at the University of Oxford discovered that capuchin monkeys can generate stone flakes that are indistinguishable from human ones. The monkeys aren’t deliberately making tools, but are thought to break rocks open to obtain a nutrient, possibly silicon, that they lick off the freshly exposed surface. The resulting accumulation of discarded stone flakes and source rocks can look exactly like a human tool factory.

Since capuchin monkeys don’t live in Africa, they probably don’t account for stone-tool production in the famous sites paleoanthropologists explore. Still, if horses and their relatives (zebras, donkeys etc) can fool scientists, what other animals are in the “unintentional toolmaker” club? There are plenty of African apes and monkeys that could bang rocks together. Some birds are known to make tools.

According to evolutionists, “equids lived alongside our ancestors in Africa and Eurasia for millions of [Darwin] years,” allowing for ample opportunity to accumulate piles of fake tools made by them. This throws “a much bigger spanner into the works,” one author of the paper said. The findings are published in the Journal of Archaeological Science by Dominguez-Solera et al., “Equids can also make stone artefacts,” Volume 40, Part A, December 2021, 103260.

This is funny. Rather than admit their mistake, maybe they will turn this into an opportunity. They can start another field of evolutionary study: the March of Horses, or how tool-making gave horses bigger brains. If it’s evolutionary, the government won’t ask questions on the funding requests.

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